ISSUE 22  |  Conversion Theory

11 Ideas to Steal from Drought-Tolerant Gardens

June 07, 2016 6:00 AM

BY Michelle Slatalla

We’re traveling to some of the driest gardens on earth–from Australia to Texas to Greece–to round up 11 eco-friendly landscape design tips that won’t force you to sacrifice style to save water:

Gravel Ground


Above: Texas landscape architect Christine Ten Eyck designed an outdoor dining space with gravel underfoot. The neutral color blends with natural surroundings. It’s a permeable paving material that feels good to walk on–and it captures groundwater. Photograph by Terrence Moore courtesy of Christine Ten Eyck.

Potted Plants


Above: Photograph by Marion Brenner.

In Texas, architect professor John G. Fairey started work on his seven-acre Peckerwood garden four decades ago. For more, see A Texas Garden Where the Rare and Endangered Flourish.

Fairey saves water with container plants that he can water efficiently. Groupings of potted plants also can create architectural interest in spots where soil conditions are inhospitable.

Shady Spots


Above: Photograph by Matthew Williams for Gardenista.

A tree with a generous, spreading canopy can create a focal point in the garden and provide shade in a sunny, arid climate. As a general rule of thumb, the diameter of a tree’s canopy is an indication of the size of its root system underground, as well.

Permeable Patios


Above: Photograph courtesy of Belathée Photography.

In Seattle, garden designer Karen Stefonick cut back on the grass, assigning turf the task of growing in the joints of concrete pavers in a permeable patio. For more of this garden, see Sleekness in Seattle: Modern Garden, Midcentury House.

A patio paved with crushed stone or gravel is an inviting, forgiving surface and creates a permeable surface to prevent water runoff. For more ideas, see Hardscaping 101: Decomposed Granite.

Drip Irrigation


Above: Photograph by Marla Aufmuth for Gardenista.

Transformed troughs: livestock troughs with a small footprint–each is 2 feet wide and 6 feet long–sit side by side in the yard behind a San Francisco row house in a garden created by designer Katey Mulligan. At a height of 24 inches, each trough provides a luxurious depth of soil to promote root growth of vegetables and herbs. For more details, see Steal This Look: Water Troughs as Raised Garden Beds.



Above: For more of this drought tolerant San Francisco garden by garden designer Beth Mullins, see A City Garden with a Spectacular View. Photograph by MB Maher

Recycle laundry and shower water–known as graywater–to use in the garden. Keep a bucket in the kitchen sink to rinse dishes and use it to water container plants.



Above: A black awning provides shade and visual interest to a drought-resistant garden in Southern California. For more of this 2,100-square-foot stucco house, see All Eras Welcome: A Spanish Colonial Update in LA. Photograph by Laure Joliet.

Keep living spaces–indoors and out–cool by installing an awning to block the sun’s rays. For awning styles and fabrics, see 10 Easy Pieces: Window Awnings.

Crowd Control


Above: Photograph by Meredith Swinehart.

In the vegetable garden, plant edibles close together to minimize water requirements. For more organic edible gardening tips, see Gone Wild: How to Grow Vegetables in the Middle of Nowhere.



Above: Photograph by Simon Griffiths courtesy of Paul Bangay.

Extremely drought tolerant, boxwood is an evergreen that will provide color and structure year round in the garden.

Drifts of Color


Above: In Australia, a colorful drought landscape of perennial plants. Photograph by Simon  Griffiths courtesy of Paul Bangay.

Mass planting of a single variety of a drought tolerant plant can create a painterly swath of color in the garden. For a romantic combination (as shown above), combine Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ (pink) with lavender (purple), and a silvery perennial grass (foreground). For more ideas, see A Garden You Water Four Times a Year.



Above: Photograph by Lana Von Haught courtesy of Kathleen Ferguson Landscapes.

For an LA garden formerly owned by Howard Hughes, designer Kathleen Ferguson planted 80 containers, most with succulents. “They give another layer to areas where there are patio areas or terraces, to tie everything together,” Ferguson says.

Are you designing a new garden or just hoping to make yours more drought tolerant? For more ideas, see: